Shippers Council moves to tackle Tin Can Ports logjam

Tin Can port, Lagos22 September 2013, lagos – Worried by increasing congestion, allegations of arbitrary charges by terminal operators and delay in goods delivery at the Tin Can Island port, the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, has intervened  in a bid to find a lasting solution to the  crisis, reports Francis Ugwoke
The past few months have been very traumatic for importers and their agents doing business at the Tin Can Island port. Apart from the chaotic traffic situation on the road leading to the port, freight forwarders have been having nightmare locating their containers and taking delivery out of the seaport. Both terminal operators and service providers have been blamed for this problem. The terminal operator, Tin Can Island Container Terminal Limited (TICT) and Cotecna Limited which is providing the Destination Inspection services have all been blamed.


While the terminal operator is being accused of failing to provide enough cargo handling equipment,  Cotecna is also being accused of not doing enough to scan containers passed on to them in good time. The other issue is that the terminal operator is also suffering space issue. The volume of cargo it is handling is more than the space the company has for the goods. The result has been congestion in the terminal. This is in addition to increasing demurrage.


The importers and   freight forwarders are arguing that it is wrong for the company to be demanding payment of  demurrage  under such circumstances that  are clearly caused by both the  terminal operator and the Destination Inspection Agent (DIA). Worried about this development, the Nigeria   Shippers Association  (NSA), which is an umbrella  association of importers   had filed a petition to the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), a government agency that is empowered to protect the interest of the importers involved in international trade.


The Impasse
The current situation at the TICT terminal  is one in which  containers  belonging  to importers which ought to have been cleared  between three weeks to one month ago are  still in the port. They are trapped. They are waiting to be positioned for examination. The owners do not know when it will be their turn. Incidentally, demurrage is being incurred.


Many importers have in the past few months been complaining of the delay it takes before they can clear their goods out of the terminal. The freight forwarders say it takes more than two weeks just to position containers for examination. They are particularly bitter because  according to some of them their importers are usually not ready to advance more money  when the goods enter demurrage.  What it means is that the freight forwarder is left with the responsibility of paying for the demurrage.


To avoid this problem, many of them have had to resort to bribing  some personnel in the  terminal to bring their containers  forward for examination. Those who go into this arrangement say they pay between N20,000  and N50,000 for 20ft and 40ft containers respectively. This allegation was  however denied by the Terminal Manger,  of Tin Can Island Container  Terminal Limited,  Mr Richards Akingbolu, who  told THISDAY that his management  has been working towards ensuring  efficient delivery system in the port.


A source close to TICT told THISDAY that part of the problem could be blamed on Cotecna Ltd who is being accused of not scanning as much as the number of containers passed each day to the company.

Customs’  intervention
The comptroller of Customs, Tin Can Port, Mr Jibrin Zakare told THISDAY last week that the problem of delay in clearing at the port has been as a result of TICT not having enough space for the volume of cargo coming to the port. He also said that Cotecna appears overwhelmed by the number of containers being passed on daily basis for scanning. Zakare said that his Command at a meeting with the two service providers on the issue decided that some of the containers  should be moved to other terminals.


Another measure is to begin 24hour service in the port to be able to deal with the volume of cargo trapped in the system.  Following the problem, the Customs Command has been faced with numerous requests from importers and their agents asking for re-routing of the containers from scanning to physical examination.

Intervention by Shippers Council
About two weeks ago, the Nigerian Shippers Council called a meeting of terminal operators and importers  in  their Park Lane office. The meeting was based on the petition from NSA against the management of TICT. The details of the petition were not clear, but sources said they were not unconnected with delay in clearing at the port, and what importers regard as arbitrary charges, including allegation of settlement of some personnel at the terminal for positioning of containers for examination, demurrage, among others.


It was gathered that during the meeting, the association   complained that  the terminal operator (TICT)  has  been collecting demurrage  on containers from its members  even when it was clear that the importers were not responsible for the  delay in clearing  their goods. The association argued that  it could be so painful if  terminal operators  who failed  to provide enough  cargo handling equipment  to position their  goods for examination insist that the importers pay demurrage.


At the  meeting attended by General Secretary  of the shippers,   Sir Jonathan Nicol, and representative of other terminal operators, including  Akingbolu,   the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr  Hassan Bello,   explained  the council had to intervene to ensure efficiency at the ports.


In his opening remark before starting the  closed door meeting with the  warring  parties, Bello   said it was wrong for the two  to be at war with each other, since they need to work together to achieve common interest.


“This meeting is to bring the two together for mutual interest. The two cannot survive without each other. It is to achieve equilibrium. The provider of services need the users , just like the users need the providers of services. So there should be  harmony”, he said According to him,  the council intervened in the crisis   as part of the  statutory responsibilities of the organisation, adding that   understanding  reached between the two parties  would  fasten clearing process at the ports. Bello assured  that it was the determination of the council to ensure that the ports achieve   efficiency in goods delivery.

The stakeholders had resolved during the meeting  that  all fast track containers  should  be    delivered direct. The other decision was that rent on containers should  start after  the vessel has sailed and container identified. As at the time of filing this report, Bello was expected to lead a team of his management staff and other stakeholders to visit the Tin Can Island port to assess the  situation. Part of the visit was also to ensure that  the  resolutions  reached  about two weeks ago are  being implemented at the port.


He  expressed optimism that  with dialogue and strategic measures in place, the crisis that importers have been facing at  the Tin Can Island port would soon be  addressed.


– This Day

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